Ann Elia Stewart is the author of twice a child, a story of love, loss and forgiveness. The main character, an elderly man in the early stages of Lewy Body Dementia, embarks upon a cross country journey to find his estranged son. In 2010, Stewart’s own father succumbed to LBD, a rare form of dementia that combines both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease. She calls her debut novel a “love letter” to her father. She earned a fellowship in fiction from the PA Council on the Arts, and has enjoyed an extensive career in all facets of writing, including journalism, advertising copywriting, and creative nonfiction. Stewart facilitates a popular creative writing workshop for the Fredricksen Library in Camp Hill, PA. She edited the first anthology of short stories generated from that workshop, entitled A Community of Writers. She also teaches creative writing at the Capital Area School for the Arts in Harrisburg, PA.
I am a nibble reader. I usually have several books going at a time, as well as magazine articles or articles I have downloaded to be read in the comfort of my bed. So here is a sample of what I’ve been nibbling.
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender. Bender’s analogies are like petit fours: so beautiful you are compelled to pick them up or, in my case, write them down and admire their exquisite quirks. Here’s one: Her protagonist is nine-year-old Rose who can taste emotion in food, as well as pinpoint its origin. She says of a friend who has consumed a bowl of oatmeal prepared by a faceless character named Janet: “Without tasting even a speck of hurry in Janet’s oatmeal, which was so rushed it was like eating the calendar of an executive’s. . .” Or of a chocolate chip cookie she sensed was made in anger: “The whole cookie was so rushed like I had to eat it fast or it would, somehow, eat me.” The novel provides a unique look into a dysfunctional family as told through Rose and it could almost pass for a memoir.
The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. Sometimes long-term unions deserve tune-ups. This book brings troubled couples together, sparks conversation that pushes aside argument and allows for the reason you came together in the first place. It illuminates the art of conversation that can be verbal or silent. And it helps couples struggling to find a voice amid the chaos of living by homing in on each member’s unique need to be heard. It’s fun to guess your partner’s love language, but even better, it’s fulfilling to watch a relationship bloom again when you take to heart the advice contained within this precious little book.
The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler. I rotate beloved books. Last year’s included Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (nine perfect chapters). This year it’s Anne Tyler’s classic tale of mourning as told through her signature complex and quirky characters, Macon and Muriel. I cry all over again and I renew the drive to write all over again: Make me laugh, make me cry. Make me FEEL.
Cleopatra: A Life, Stacy Schiff. This is a book I pick up and read a page or so at a time to savor the rich words of painstaking research: details that allow the reader to step into Cleopatra’s skin as she discovers the crudities and oddities of a city called Rome, far different from her beloved Alexandria. Witness: “If she spent any time in the thick of the city, Cleopatra found herself amid a gloomy welter of crooked, congested streets. . .among muddy pigs and soup vendors and artisans’ shops that tumbled out onto footways. By every measure a less salubrious city than Alexandria, Rome was squalid and shapeless, an oriental tangle of narrow, poorly ventilated streets and ceaseless, shutter-creaking commotion, perpetually in shadow, stiflingly hot in summer.” Whether I want to be or not – I’m there!
And the book I will read after I am through Lemon Cake:
The Age of Desire by Jennie Fields. I love books told from various points of view. My own book is constructed in this way. I am intrigued by and highly anticipate the perspectives of Edith Wharton and her literary secretary and confidante, Anna Bahlmann. The novel comes highly recommended by a friend, herself a voracious reader.
Passed on to another reader, but an honorary book-by-the-bed:
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. Waters takes a stab at a Dickensian world of orphanages, thievery and veiled pornography. I was immediately transported to the filthy and ribald living of late nineteenth century England where a tale of two points of view at once intrigue and befuddle, daring you to read between the lines as one of Waters’ two heroines reads “tales” to an audience of elderly gents from her “uncle’s” vast collection of precious and rare books. It’s worth noting that I read this as I was giving Fifty Shades of Grey a go (curious as to how such a book could garner millions of readers and dollars). While the latter lasted three chapters before I threw it across the room, Fingersmith’s sly hints of sexual longing as well as mental gymnastics for what is not being said kept me turning the pages in fervor.
What good books have you nibbled on lately?